The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

Photo Assignment: Liquid

In my photography group, we are given monthly photo themes to challenge us.   This month: Liquids.

Our weekend in the Cinque Terre gave me plenty of vantage points to capture water.   Here are a few of my favorites:

Rocks on the beach at Monterrosso al Mare

Water streaming off of Vernazza’s docks in the stormy weather

Water hitting the rocky coastline in Vernazza

Swirls of sea foam on the cliffs below Manarola

Foamy photo fun in Manarola

Waves rushing into the Manarola rocks

 

 

 

 

 

Slumming it in the Italian Riviera: Portofino

Road trips can be fun but sometimes the way home can be a downer, knowing you are returning from doing something really fun.    So, one of our new pastimes when taking a road trip is to find unexpected gems.    So, on our way home from a weekend, if we have time, we pull out the maps and books and see what might be on the way.

Returning from the Cinque Terre, we saw that Portofino was nearby on the map.   I’ll be honest – the most I knew about Portofino prior to this trip was that there was an Italian restaurant named after it in Charlotte, NC, where we lived prior.

Portofino’s Charlotte.   Image courtesy of hellocharlotte.com.

On the way, I read aloud to Gabe some details about the Italian city of Portofino, not be confused with the aforementioned suburban restaurant.   Italian history dates the settlement of Portofino back to the 10th century, where it was coveted for its protected harbor.   It changed hands many times but the harbor was a major asset for the likes of military giants such as Napolean and Hitler.

Post WW2, expatriates began to flock to the town and it soon built a glamorous name due to its holiday clientele.    By the 1950′s era, it was a major vacation spot of the rich and famous.  Things got so rowdy that Rex Harrison dropped his Oscar in the harbor.   Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, and Ava Gardner also frequented the Italian port town.  Elizabeth Taylor took all of her husbands there.

As we started the drive in, we got the feeling we were in for something special.   Rounding the cliffs overrun with pristine mansions and elegant hotels, we felt like we were in Monaco, yet with a rustic Italian feel.

Driving through the Portofino Peninsula, the town of Santa Margherita Ligure

When we arrived in the pedestrian-only Portofino, we parked our car and traveled on the cobblestone path towards the port.   We passed storefronts such as Dior and Louis Vitton, mixed in with small family-owned Italian groceries and pizza shops.

And when we reached the harbor, I was instantly enamored.  Beautiful colored buildings hugged a pristine turqouise-blue bay.

The harbor of Portofino

Cafés were starting to set up outdoor dining, even with the threat of a rain storm.  We grabbed a prime spot at la Stella under a canopy and happily enjoyed a glass of the house white wine while deciding what pasta we’d order.

This sure beats having lunch at a rest stop

I ordered the pasta del giorgno: a shrimp & zucchini spaghetti.    Although we’d each had two servings of pesto pasta while in the Cinque Terre, Gabe had wanted to try the pesto lasagna.

Pesto lasagna – homemade Ligurian pesto smothering thin lasagne noodles

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Promenade di Portofino letting our legs stretch before the remaining four hour journey home.

Colors of Portofino

Panorama of Portofino

Elizabeth Taylor, I’ll never be, but I sure did like playing the part one afternoon in the Italian Riviera.

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world.  I first discovered it with friend R in the summer of 2007 during our girls trip to Italy.   Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in Italian and the area is comprised by five small towns perched on cliffs above the Ligurian Sea.

The area is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the early civilizations’ ability to build, live, and thrive on landscape that has the odds of being inhabitable.

I wanted to share it with Gabe, so we had selected it for one of our Honeyfund trips for our wedding.  We planned to go after my feet had fully recovered, which ended up being this Fall.    While we had some stormy skies our entire trip, I found the lack of tourists and cooler weather to be an refreshing change.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE, #5 was the town we stayed in.  It is the biggest, and I picked it due to our late arrival as it had more hotels that accomodated late check-in as well as actual parking lots for our car.   We arrived around 9pm and found that we couldn’t drive through town to the side we were staying in.   Note to future travelers: the Old Town and New Town are not connected for the average driver, only with special permit can you open the chain / gates.   It is a 20 – 30 minute deviation to drive back up the mountain to come back the other side.  So make sure to note that in your driving plans!

We checked into Hotel Baia.  It was a basic Italian room, but in a suberb location on the water and near the Monterosso train station.

Beach town of Monterosso

Early the next morning, we  put on our rain gear and set out to hike the seven mile Trail 2 from our hotel to Riomaggiore.  We were greeted with a locked gate.  The trails were closed due to the mudslides last October and continuing bad weather.   Oops.  While I researched the affects of the mudslides on the towns, I had not specifically looked into the trails.

Luckily there is a fantastic transportation solution – a regional train connects the five towns with an hourly train.   While they aren’t quite always on time, it was a very nice back-up to get to see the area with the trail closings.

The next stop, VERNAZZA, #4,  was my favorite of the five towns during the 2007 trip.  It has a natural harbor and I adore the bell tower from the church and how it looks over the coast.   We saw a large poster detailing the devastation the mudslides caused in this particular town.   It showcased homeowners and shopkeepers standing in the mud which once was their home/shop.   The beach was still a little damaged, but otherwise, there were scarce signs of the horrors they experienced last October.  They’ve done a remarkable job cleaning up.

In the harbor of Vernazza

Still too early for lunch, we climbed to the highest point of the town – the castle.  We loved seeing the ominous skies surround the colorful buildings.

Above Vernazza at the castle

Birds-eye view of Vernazza’s port

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Gambero Rosso, the same restaurant where R and I had enjoyed a meal five years prior.  We both ordered the fresh pasta with pesto, a Ligurian specialty with a glass of local white wine.   Deliciouso!

After lunch, we scurried to catch our train.   Due to some technical difficulties which I’ll chalk up to not reading the board properly Italian chaos and mis-direction, we missed the hourly train to the next town of Corniglia.   We opted to catch the next train which bypassed the other two towns in order not to lose another full hour.

RIOMAGGIORE, #1, is the first town on the trail and supposedly the least touristic.   We watch a fisherman for awhile and reflected on the colorful boats and buildings which trailed upwards.

A lone fisherman

The vertical town of Riomaggiore

We explored the height of the town, certainly the “most vertical” of the five, and sat for a quick glass of vino, another Cinque Terre white varietal.  After, we caught the train backwards to town #4.

MANAROLA, #4, was Gabe’s favorite of the Cinque Terre.    Back when we were single girls on our Italian vacation, R and I had headed straight for Manarola’s beach to catch all the summer action.  Now, it was a ghost-town, but it left us more time for exploration.  We wound around the vineyards surrounding the village, getting every vantage point.  I’d have to say that this trip, Manarola was  my favorite.

Foamy waters surrounding Manarola

Gabe, checking out the village

Ominous clouds covering Manarola

Because we liked it so much, we opted for a longer stay in Manarola versus hitting the fifth town of Corniglia.   My husband prefers to enjoy fewer activities for longer…..quality not quantity.  And for me, it’s a good lesson for me to remember as I never want to miss anything.    Gabe joked it would have to be Quattro Terre for him.

We were able to see Corniglia from a distance.

View of Corniglia #3, from Monterrosso #5.

View of Corniglia #3, from #4 Manarola. We saw the evidence of mudslides taking out the trails between these two on the hills to the right of the photo.

Good thing we opted to leave.  The skies let loose after we got to Manarola’s station.   In order to reach Corniglia, there are 400 steps.  So, I am thankful we weren’t caught in that exploring the last remaining town.

We returned to Monterosso for a wonderful dinner at Ciak and drinks at Enoteca da Eliseo.  We ended up seeing the couple who’d taken our photo in Vernazza.  They were photographers from Indianapolis who were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary.  We had a few drinks with them comparing travel notes.

It was an awesome weekend.  A big thanks to our Honeyfund contributors from our wedding.  You really made our 18 month anniversary (Nov 7) very special.   We appreciate it!

The Beaches of Rio de Janeiro

We had planned to go to the second wedding in Goiania, Brazil.  We had a few days before the rest of the guests and the bride & groom arrived to Goiania, so decided to hit another Brazilian locale.  We chose Rio de Janeiro as we had heard a lot of good things about the oceanfront city.

It was winter in Brazil, but temperatures were still warm in the upper 70′s.   It was cooler than it had been in the States but not too cool for swimming.

We stayed at Copacabana Beach.  This was mainly due to the fact that we had Marriott points and the JW Marriott was the only option of the chain in Rio.   Our hotel was right across from the famous beach.    It was nice…we ended up taking a walk daily down its 6km length.

Copacabana Beach. View from the JW Marriott.

However, our favorite was probably Ipanema. As I have mentioned before on the blog, I love it when beach landscapes have terrain adding to the panorama than just the ocean.  And Ipanema fit my “perfect beach” because of this quality.   It also had gorgeous blue water and felt a bit safer than some of the other beaches that we visited.

Ipanema Beach and Two Brothers mountain

Swimmers in Ipanema

We also took a walk on Praia de São Conrado.  It is more southward of the city and located just under one of the 1500 slums in Rio.   It stands in the shadow of Pedra da Gavea, which is the world’s largest monolith sitting on a coastline..  Again, I enjoyed it because of this feature.

The Sao Conrado beach falls on the other side of this giant mountain. The favelas, slums, surround the mountain. At least they have water views!

Sao Conrado beach

Lusi drove us by the 22 km Barra da Tijuca beach, but we ended up just taking a drive  because it was so long and we were limited on time.

A few tips on beaches:

-       Pack sunscreen – the sun is intense!!!!  We had a lot of haze but the sun still can penetrate your skin.

-       Wear the right flip flops.  The Brazilian brand Havaianas is famous.  You can purchase them for 15 R and up on the streets.

-       Be careful.  We had heard never to walk on the beach after dark.  Also, we were strongly discouraged to take a camera on a walk on the beach or any money, watches or valuables.    These photos were taken from high rises, or either when our tour car was in sight.

-       As far as attire, anything goes.  We saw everyone from five year olds to grandmas sporting the famous Brazilian thong (called fio dental translating to “dental floss”).   No one lets weight or age stand in their way.     Plus, speedos are the norm for the fellows.

Notice anything?

A day at the beach…including killer ducks

Hermance is located north of Geneva.  It is 30 minutes on Bus E.    I mentioned in a previous post, it is a nice little village, beautiful and charming.  Also, for guests, it can be a quick way to cross the border into France, as we did this spring.

Charming Hermance

It also has a really nice stone beach.   I visited this summer with my friend San Francisco Gal.  We made a picnic and enjoyed the sunshine.

A few things to know about the beach in Hermance:

-entry is 4 CHF for adults and 1 CHF for kids

-they have a snack shop, so you can purchase food & drinks (alternatively, we brought our own)

-its really windy since it is on a point…be prepared for temperatures cooler than Geneva

-its a rock beach as is common on Lake Geneva.   Maybe bring water shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking/swimming.

Hermance beach

-there are a lot of scuba divers.  They have special scuba showers and it is common to witness scuba activity such as this:

 

Scuba guys

-They have some ‘killer’ ducks.   It started as innocent as them pecking at my big toe, but then they quickly took over our picnic.   Have you ever seen anything like this?

 

 

 

Crete: 50 Shades of Blue

It has been a dream of ours to return to Greece, ever since our trip to the country in May 2010.  We enjoyed the history, being surrounded upon every turn with magnificent ruins and chronicles of the past.  We loved the amazing simplicity of their food.  We appreciated the openness of the people, so eager to share their culture, their specialties.   And, the islands….the highlight for me.  I cried the day we left Santorini because I didn’t want to leave the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.   And Santorini being my favorite place in the world…still true.

This time, for our return trip, we selected the island of Crete.  We had heard the enormous island had a ton to offer – in history, more great food, and gorgeous blue waters.

We stayed in the Mirabello Bay, in between the town of Elounda and the tiny fishing village of Plaka.  I had selected the hotel based on the photos I’d seen other travelers post online of the Elounda area.   I just love it when there are other islands or peninsulas to look at in the distance.

A guy on our plane to Dublin told us Ireland had 30 shades of green.  I’d say, they certainly do, but if you are dedicating colors to islands…Crete has 50 shades of blue.

Varying blues in Mirabello Bay

Turquoise blue in our little harbor of Blue Palace

Clear water leading to brilliant blues

Boats near Elounda town in deep turquoise blue waters

The turquoise of Elounda town

Overlooking cerulean waters

Lots of variation on the cliff above our hotel – turquoise in the bay and deeper blues in the Aegean sea

Bright blues and bluish mountains looking back towards Ag Nick

And my favorite view…blues varying with depth – greenish blue to turquoise to dark blue

More Summer Fun at Montreux Jazz Fest

We went to Montreux this weekend for the 46th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.  Even though I had taken Twin & Solid while they were here, I still wanted to go back.  This marks my fourth time and Gabe’s 3rd time going to the festival.

A round trip train ticket from Geneva costs 25 CHF each for us to go, but it is a fun summer activity.

A very pleasant ride from Geneva – an hour total and 25 CHF with your half fare card and 10% SBB discount for attending the JazzFest (no ticket required).

Everyone thinks we are weird that we don’t buy tickets for the shows.  My physio gave me a very quizzical look.   But, the free music is lovely.   You just simply show up to the park, find a spot and listen to your heart’s content.  The shows start about 3:30 on weekdays and 2:00 on the weekend and play back-to-back with 1/2 hour or hour breaks in between.

Taking in the scene, listening to a South African band.

Pants optional. Dogs are allowed. As demonstrated by this gentleman.  To his credit, the lake is right there.

 

If you feel like walking around, there is plenty to see and do.  There are a ton of vendors selling handcrafted goods.

Also the food is pretty yummy.  Gabe and I justify our expenditure on 25 CHF train tickets + festival food = cheaper than a low end restaurant in Geneva.

Image courtesy of Henry Birmingham from last year. The paella guys were back again this year.

 

Some people wander to the end of the festival to enjoy the swimming.  This is one of my favorite docks.

Lovely dock on Lake Geneva – Montreux.

This year, you could watch the gliders come in and try to land on the orange pad.

Coming in for landing….

 

Approaching…

Boom!

Freddie Mercury even enjoyed watching them a time or two.

Freddie Mercury tribute statue in Montreux.

The festival runs until this Sunday, July 15th – I’d encourage you to check it out!

An Impromptu 4th of July Picnic at Genève Plage

Today is the 4th of July.   As I have mentioned, sometimes it can be quite strange living somewhere that doesn’t celebrate your typical holidays.   Gabe is also out of town on business.  Since he doesn’t get US holidays (only Swiss), he had a work trip starting Monday and landing at midnight tonight.

I didn’t want to let the day escape without celebrating.   Luckily, some of the other ladies were up for getting together to recognize Independence Day.

M had suggested Genève Plage (Plage = Beach in French).  She and some of her mom group friends had gotten season passes as it provided a good kid-friendly meet up place, just about a mile outside of Geneva.  I had never been before, so I was excited to try it out and purchased a single entry at 7 CHF.

A view of Genève Plage from the water

So, we found a nice shady spot to spend the afternoon.

Our 4th of July Headquarters

Everyone dressed in fun 4th of July clothes.  The moms of us had to get their kid’s clothing on trips to the US long before the actual 4th of July.   Something that you take for granted!

All the little ones were dressed so cute

Miss Yoga is from Japan, but we were so glad she joined us for our Independence Day celebration.  Check out the yummy food she made, blending Japanese tradition with USA flair.

4th of July bento sushi – white rice, orange crab, black seaweed and little stars!!  Cute and yummy!

Caprese bites and deviled eggs with fish eggs

K made cherry pie pockets, so that they’d be easier to serve.  She pitted the cherries and made them from scratch since ‘pie filling’ doesn’t exist.  They were incredible!  I scored an extra to bring home for Gabe when he got home at midnight.

Cherry pie pockets

I made Red, White & Blue cupcakes.  Mama Mia had brought us some Red Velvet Duncan Hines cake mix in April, and I imported some cream cheese frosting from the States my last trip.  Since they didn’t have blue icing at the store, I just used blueberries.

Red velvet cupcakes for red, white and blue

P having some fun with the cupcake

We also had lots of fresh fruit, snack mix, and nuts to complement the red, white and blue.

After eating, a few of us went swimming.   The beaches in the Mediteranean can be quite different to some who have never seen stone beaches.  I remember when we went to Greece, it was Gabe’s first time seeing one.

Swiss lake beaches are quite similar.   When his family came in March and we went to Hermance, it was also a surprise.  Geneva also has stone beaches, as that is what is natural vs. the sand.  The pro is that you don’t get sandy.  The con is that sometimes it hurts to walk on.  Also, ‘rock’ castles don’t turn out so well.

Stone beach of Genève Plage

Genève Plage has a pool and a waterslide.  It was really busy that day, so I opted to get my thrills jumping off the high dive into the lake.

I did the middle section…the top one was closed.

The water wasn’t actually that cold this year.  Must have been the warm weather we had last week?

As for now, its 8pm Geneva time and I am listening to the rain pour down outside.  I’m glad we got our little celebration in before the storm.   Hopefully everyone back in the US is enjoying their Independence Day.  And a huge shout out of thanks goes out to all our servicemen for all you do to protect our freedom!

Related Posts:  

The Swiss Watch Blog:     Canadienne Buffet: USA Style

The Swiss Watch Blog:     A fantastic 4th of July with Henry Birmingham

Swiss Wife Style:  Party Recap

The Swiss Watch Blog:     Happy Swiss National Day

The Swiss Watch Blog:     Valentine’s Day and Other Non-Events

 

The Ring of Kerry took our breath away

When I first started researching our Ireland trip, something that caught my eye was driving the “Ring of Kerry”.   It is a road, about 112 miles looping in the county of Kerry through some pretty amazing and dynamic landscape.

Image courtesy of The Moorings

We got a hotel in Killarney which is the northernmost part and also the biggest town.

Here are some of our views from the drive:

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

Watching some surfing action.

Rolling hills of green

House overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

Loved the many little islands

Beautiful panorama

We were warned that there would be tour buses galore and it would get annoying driving down the roads.  However, we only saw three tour buses all day, so we really lucked out with the mild weather and unpopulated roads.    We only had to watch out for these guys :

Sheep in the road

In my reading, it said you could take from a full day to an entire week to do the ring of Kerry.  We only had a full day.  By the time we’d stopped at a few gorgeous places, we were running short on time and had to keep trekking back in order to get to our hotel at a reasonable time.  However, since we’d driven from Liscannor, we only started the ring at noon, so didn’t have a full day to start.

We stopped for an awesome seafood dinner at this “beach bar”

But to those going, I’d encourage you to break it up and try to do it in two days.     One, you can do it more leisurely and see more.  Two, if you are like me, I got so overwhelmed with how gorgeous it was that at the end, I couldn’t take in any more.  I had “panoramic shock”.

If you do it in two days, note that there were plenty of cute B & B’s along the route that would be lovely and advertise only 25 euro / night rooms.

Our tips:

–Do two days if possible

–Do the Skellig Ring add-on.  Our favorite!

–We also heard people liking the Skellig islands but we didn’t have time

–We ran into some recent grads from UGA and they said the cut through path in the middle of Ring of Kerry was pretty incredible too

–Don’t try to go too far off road. We almost got our rental car, Patrick, stuck in the middle of nowhere:

Yup, we drove down this road.  Gabe’s idea.